To conquer poverty, ignorance and disease, we must first conquer illiteracy. Bridging the literacy and skills gap among the Nigerian youth should be a matter of urgent importance. Skill acquisition should be at the forefront considering the ineptitude of basic education which so far yields unemployment and economic vices. Skills development has been man’s means of material transformation from the earliest of time. But for development to take place, it takes trained hands and minds to apply the knowledge and techniques effectively.
As we come to the tail end of this discussion on education, literacy and skills, the apex citadels of learning in Nigeria, have been shut down, due to a face-off between a government that is to provide conducive atmosphere for learning and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that is to administer the necessary education. So what are the ways forward?
The need of vigorous funding for the educational sector is indeed a focus we should direct resources to. Between 2004 and 2012 the budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria was between 4.83% and 9.15% whereby UNESCO recommends that countries should devote not less than 23% of their annual budget to education.
Political will is the key here. Nigeria as one of the world’s largest exporter of crude oil would surely do the educational sector a whole lot of good by setting aside a certain amount per barrel of crude oil. To experiment with around $2 per barrel of oil for education is no folly at all. With good accountability, and genuine political will, and a good innovative measure such as this the literacy and skills gap would be resolved in earnest.
Skill vis-à-vis Knowledge Development
An illiterate is a slave. An enlightened mind is liberated and it is only a liberated mind that can bring meaningful development. From our everyday life, it can be seen that an individual armed with knowledge and skills is a better personality. A local barber educated can indeed save more lives and empower development. A newborn child is more likely to survive with a knowledgeable mother. Literacy must be taken beyond the ability to read and write to the critical level that imbues the citizenry with thinking skills and functional literacy.
Young people of school age should not only be limited to curriculum verbatim but should be exposed to a programme of personal vocational experience during the school term. This can embolden the young minds at the tender age of 13-18 to imbibe the basics of learning as well as nurturing skills. This can be emphasised as part of the academic planner of each and every secondary school. Each student should be attached to any professional, technical or vocational institution as part of the school’s curricular activity. The hours of formal education can hence be made flexible to suit vocational development and skill acquisition right from an early age and will be able to persuade employers and society at large to value skills, experience and personal qualities rather than mad-rush for paper qualifications. After all a certificate is a document which simply certifies the completion of a course. It places power in the individual to enable him/herself to access what the certificate has the tendency to offer.
Attractive Public Education
With proper funding, and management of the government’s resources towards a single course, a well institutionalised public educational sector can be achieved. These institutions will have the advantage of being cheaper and cater for low advantaged aspects of the population that are inaccessible to proper educational opportunities. Nigeria’s geographical distribution of educational facilities is “lopsided”; in rural areas, illiteracy is much greater than in urban areas. The three main reasons are: lack of education facilities in the rural side; limited access to education for rural young people; and survival demands which make families keep their children out of school.
With proper management and accountability, cheap quality education can be accessible to all and sundry. A measure kick-start can be a legal backing for wards of all public office holders to be sent to such public schools. Without doubt with such innovation, the neglect suffered by educational infrastructure in the country will soon be a thing of the past. Special science secondary schools that provide sound scientific and technological knowledge with adequate technical and vocational input should then be set up in at least each state of the federation to provide equal opportunity to each and every school age child.
Tertiary Education System
A rebranding of the tertiary education system in the country will be needed for meaningful development, and bridging the literacy and skills gap adequately. Reform of this sector is unavoidable as the curricula is obsolete and does not cater much for research and skill in this competitive world. A more practical and research oriented system will have to be inculcated. Research should be the basis of the tertiary system and students would have to be grinded on the needs of the economy in their various fields of study, and to be more innovative in that field for the betterment of themselves and the society at large. Protection and empowerment of the individual and the community should as such be the goal of the tertiary educational system. Academic Staff should be nurtured on community-oriented practical education in each course of study.
The urge for continuous learning can indeed be described as ‘cradle to grave’. The importance of skills acquisition cannot be over-emphasized because its roles to national development are multi-dimensional and each and every one of us has his own role to play in bridging the literacy and skills gap. So what are you doing in your everyday life towards a more sustainable educational sector? Whatever it is you are doing, you need to do even more!